Why does straight sex disgust me?

Sex: Reading sample: Roots of homosexuality

How does the tendency to same-sex love arise? Researchers suspect that certain physical processes trigger them before birth

For a long time, homosexuals were considered mentally ill. Doctors treated gays with electric shocks or operated on their brains. Today, however, it is clear that same-sex tendencies are completely natural. But how does it come about that some people only desire their own gender? Researchers are trying to fathom the roots of homosexuality - and suspect that the predisposition arises even before birth.

In the case of men who sleep with men, according to an ancient Greek script, the channels for the seminal fluid are blocked. Instead of flowing together in the testicles and penis, the fluid collects in the buttocks. There it causes a physical desire - a need for friction and discharge.

The unknown author adds that gay passion can also arise from habit: Anyone who gets used to passive intercourse during puberty (an experience that was not uncommon in ancient Greece) may develop a natural need for the same practice.

No less obscure are theories that attempted to explain the phenomenon of homosexuality in later centuries. Sometimes same-sex love was simply dismissed as sodomy, as unnatural and thus as the work of the devil. Sometimes the view was widespread that the unnatural urge arose from too frequent masturbation, polygamy or the administration of enema during childhood. The famous doctor Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in turn blamed too close a mother bond for homosexual desire.

As recently as the 1970s, some scientists assumed that people who were attracted to the same sex had a developmental disorder. Doctors treated gays with electric shocks or operated on their brains. And until 1990, the World Health Organization listed homosexuality as a mental illness.

Today we know: homosexual tendencies are completely natural and also occur in the animal kingdom

Today, on the other hand, same-sex love is no longer an absurdity for most people in our enlightened Western society. No educated person believes that gays and lesbians are mentally ill, sexually misguided or wrongly brought up. Rather, researchers know that their inclination is completely natural and not a lifestyle of their own choosing.

Last but not least, the scientists have now collected a remarkable amount of evidence that homosexual behavior is also widespread in the animal kingdom. For example, whale bulls occasionally rub their erect penises together, while female dolphins penetrate the sexual opening of their partners with their dorsal fin. Male bison, bottlenose dolphins and lions meet for anal intercourse, and female macaques know the art of bringing each other to orgasm.

Male elephants, on the other hand, sometimes live in stable relationships for years: they kiss, intertwine their trunks and stick them in each other's mouth. Homosexual storks, ducks, swans and vultures raise cubs together. Same-sex behavior is also widespread among domesticated sheep: every tenth ram mates exclusively with other males.

And yet: from a purely biological point of view, same-sex love is a curiosity. Because if you live exclusively homosexually, you cannot produce offspring - evolutionary behavior should not bring any advantage with it.

Researchers are trying all the more ambitiously to fathom the apparently paradoxical phenomenon. They ask themselves, for example, whether sexual orientation is anchored in our genetic makeup or whether cultural and sociological factors also influence which gender our desires are directed to. Scientists also increasingly want to understand whether homosexual people differ from heterosexuals only in terms of their sexual orientation or whether they generally think and feel differently.

Is it true, for example, that gays are more empathetic, sensitive and creative than straight people, as many speculate? Or that there is a clear division of roles in lesbian relationships: between butches (the masculine lesbians) and femmes (the feminine counterpart)? And how tight are the boundaries between heterosexuality and homosexuality?

How do you define "homosexuality"?

It is far from easy to answer these questions. Even with a definition of the term "homosexuality" the researchers find it difficult. Because the question arises: Who is homosexual anyway? All people who have same-sex fantasies? Those who also have sex with partners of the same sex? Or just who calls themselves gay or lesbian?

Many studies show that the transitions between homo- and heterosexuality can sometimes be fluid. For example, there are men who call themselves homosexual but have never had sexual intercourse with a man. Others feel straight but have extensive sexual contact with male partners.

In women, the sexual partner orientation seems to be even less stable. Many women with same-sex experiences are reluctant to be placed in a category at all. Some are more sexually attracted to men, but prefer to partner with a woman. Others keep switching between men and women. And quite a few fall in love with a woman for the first time in the middle of life - surprisingly for themselves.

After all: almost three percent of men and almost 1.5 percent of women in the western industrialized nations describe themselves as gay or lesbian; they only desire their own gender. Of course, this does not mean that these people quarrel with their gender identity: gays and lesbians feel just as much as men or women as heterosexual men and women do.

Studies, however, come to the conclusion that gays perceive themselves as less masculine on average and lesbians as less feminine - at least measured against the norm that the public conveys them.

What is true about the typical clichés about lesbians and gays?

Some personality traits also seem to deviate from the gender typical average in homosexuals. Studies show that empathy is actually more pronounced among homosexual men. They also have a greater aesthetic perception, for example they deal more often with art and culture.

Lesbian women, on the other hand, are more interested in technology and score higher in tests for physical aggressiveness than heterosexual women. In addition, some homosexuals display certain gender-atypical behaviors that other gays and lesbians, but also heterosexuals, notice. Test subjects in an experiment at Northwestern University in Illinois were able to use short video and sound sequences to see with remarkable ease whether a man was gay or a woman was lesbian - at least far better than would have been expected by chance.

According to the results of the study, gait and voice play a role in this phenomenon, which is known as "gay radar" among homosexuals: Many lesbian women hardly swing their hips when walking (similar to men), and some gay men emphasize the vowels that way as it is characteristic of women.

Of course: none of these observations are general. A number of gay men who could be seen or heard in the test were consistently considered to be straight. And most gays and lesbians hardly deviate in their role behavior from what is considered typically male or typically female in our society. Only a minority of lesbians corresponds to the often rumored image of short-haired, boyish male women, only very few gays put on make-up, wear extravagant clothes or stand out with exaggerated gestures.

There is even no scientific evidence for other clichés - for example that there is often a classic division of roles in homosexual couples. For all that is known, gay and lesbian couples are often more equal than they are in heterosexual relationships. Psychologists have found that they share housework more fairly and argue more equitably.

Is Homosexuality Hereditary?

Whether the character peculiarities of gays and lesbians are culturally shaped (e.g. through imitation) or whether they have a biological cause is still controversial. However, they never consciously choose their sexual identity, their preference for the same sex. There are numerous indications that same-sex tendencies are to a certain extent hereditary.

Because in certain families homosexuality occurs more frequently. Scientists have found out: If a child is gay, the chance that the next-born son will also be doubled to quadrupled. With dizygoti twins, the probability is up to 30 percent, with identical sibling pairs, i.e. genetically identical people, up to 65 percent. It is all too understandable that, given these results, researchers have been looking for certain genes that could promote homosexuality for years. A study with almost 40 pairs of gay brothers came to the conclusion that such genetic makeup may be on the X chromosome - that is, on that part of the genome that men inherit exclusively from their mother. So far, however, scientists have not been able to biochemically locate any individual genetic information that alone justifies the tendency towards homosexuality. Such a "gay gene" will probably not be found in the future either - because most complex properties, biologists assume today, arise from the interaction of several genes.

Read the whole article in the new

GEOkompakt No. 43 "Sex".

Back to the magazine page